Story of Japan - R. Van Bergen

The First Invasion of Korea

THE most famous empress of Japan was named Jingu (jin-goo). In her reign the Japanese were so strong that they began to look for other countries to conquer, and Empress Jingu thought Korea (koh-ree-ah)  would be the easiest to take.

If you look on the map, you will see to the west of Japan, and not far distant from the island of Kiushiu, a peninsula. On our maps it is called Korea, but the people who live in it have named it "Land of the Morning Calm." This name is wholly undeserved; for Korea is seldom at peace, being always disturbed by warfare either at home or with some neighbor. It is a rich country, because the soil is fertile and produces heavy crops of rice, millet, etc. Besides this, the rivers contain much gold and the mountains are full of minerals. But the people are wretchedly poor, because the officers rob them of all they have.

For a very long time this people refused to have anything to do with us. They fired on our ships when near their coast, and it was not until 1882 that they consented to make a treaty with us. Since that time Americans have been allowed to live in Korea. Now, you might think from this that the Koreans are a brave people, but they are not. They do not like to fight, and besides they are very lazy. It is not often that you see them at work. They smoke long pipes, and lounge all day in the streets or on the roads, dressed in long white cotton garments, and stiff hats made of horse-hair. They manage to get just enough to live on, and that is all they care for, because they know that if they save anything, their officers will come and take it from them. But it was not always thus. At the time that Empress Jingu thought of invading their country, the Koreans were great workers in wood and metals, and made many fine objects. They first taught the Japanese, but that people improved, while the Koreans have forgotten all they ever knew.

War Junks


After Empress Jingu had determined upon war with Korea, she did not lose any time in making her preparations. War junks were built, and a great army was raised. The soldiers were told to meet at the west coast of the island of Kiushiu, where they were to go on board. The empress herself was to take the command, and she had no doubt that she would be able to seize Korea.

She stood, you must know, in great favor with the Dragon King, who lived in the World Under the Sea, and she was confident that this powerful sea god would help her. To be sure, there might be some of the sea gods who would be favorable to the Koreans, but then the Dragon King was the most powerful, and he would know how to discover and set at naught any tricks these lesser gods might be inclined to play.

And she was not mistaken. Before she embarked, the Dragon King presented her with two crystal balls, having exactly the same power as the jewels which Prince Put-the-Fire-Out had received from his father-in-law. If she threw one of them into the sea, the water would rise to a great height, and if she cast the other one in, the water would flow out again until the bed of the sea appeared. You may think that these would be rather dangerous toys to play with; but Empress Jingu knew how to handle them, as you will hear.

The fleet set sail, and had hardly lost sight of the land when a tempest arose, and the waves became threatening. This was, of course, caused by some sea god who favored the Koreans. But if Jingu's friend, the Dragon King, could not prevent such a mishap, he could at least see to it that no harm was done. So he quietly ordered some large fish, such as sharks, porpoises, etc., to harness themselves to Jingu's vessels, and tow them to Korea. It was no wonder, therefore, that, storm or no storm, the Japanese fleet arrived safe near the coast of Korea.

The king of Korea had heard all about Jingu and her preparations, and was ready to meet her. He had drawn up his army on the beach, and was watching to see whether the Japanese would try to effect a landing. But Jingu knew what she was about. After her ships had been securely anchored, she gave the necessary orders, and warned her warriors not to be surprised at anything that might happen. When everything was ready, she dropped one of the crystal balls into the sea, and the water began to run out, until the ships stuck fast in the mud.

When the king of Korea saw this, he thought that he had the Japanese at his mercy. He gave orders to his army to charge, and they made straight for the enemy's vessels. When they were at some distance from the shore, Jingu dropped the other ball, and the water began to rush back. The Koreans had no time to reach either the dry land or the vessels, and their king saw his army drowned before his eyes, and his country at the mercy of his enemy. What could he do but submit? Empress Jingu led her army in triumph to his capital, and the king was compelled to make peace on her terms. They were that the king must hand over to Japan eighty vessels loaded with gold, silver, and other valuables, and give hostages that he would pay her a tribute every year.

Some people think that there is about as much truth in the story of Empress Jingu and her invasion of Korea, as in that of the sun goddess and her son. But there is one fact that is worth knowing, and that is that there is an extraordinary ebb and flood upon the Korean coast; in some places the water rises to a height of thirty-two feet, while at low tide, the ocean bed is dry for more than a mile from the shore.

The Japanese claimed for a long time that this conquest gave them a right upon the peninsula. And you will read later how this claim led to many a serious rebellion, and finally to the war with China.